Universities nationwide reconsider standardized tests

Colleges and universities across the country are increasingly ridding their applications of a standardized testing requirement.

More than 800 schools nationwide no longer require high school applicants to report their SAT or ACT scores, according to a list compiled by the National Center for Fair & Open Testing (FairTest). The number of schools that offer test-optional or test-flexible policies — which include several top-tier institutions such as Middlebury College, Bowdoin College, Wake Forest University and New York University — has grown quickly in recent years. Bob Schaeffer, public education director for FairTest, said he would like to see Yale join the trend toward test-optional applications because the University has been moving away from strictly numbers-based admissions and he thinks the change would be a logical next step.

“It’s very unclear how significant [a] role the SAT plays at hyper-competitive schools which could easily admit entering classes with nothing but 800s if they so chose,” Schaeffer said.

Schaeffer said at Yale, where a portion of applicants have undergone test coaching, “you don’t really know whether [a score] is the score of a kid who took the test cold or one who took a $1000 Princeton Review course.” Those who come from families with stronger financial backgrounds can “buy themselves a leg up,” he added.

Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Jeffrey Brenzel said in an email to the News that he still believes that standardized tests provide relevant information for the Admissions Office because they indicate an applicant’s ability to handle college-level work. He said he does not know whether Yale will ever consider becoming a test-optional university. Yale currently asks its applicants to take either the SAT with two SAT subject tests or the ACT Plus Writing test.

Lisa Rattray, who has been an SAT prep teacher for over 20 years, said she thinks standardized tests serve as useful shortcuts for universities’ admissions committees to evaluate applicants without wasting valuable time. But, she added, she has “mixed feelings” about the tests’ fairness to students who do not have the advantage of tutoring.

“It’d be great if they could come up with something else,” Rattray said. “There are still so many kids that are probably capable of doing well that aren’t being looked at because they might not be great test-takers.”

Executive Director of The Education Conservancy Lloyd Thacker said he believes students overestimate the role of tests in the admissions process because “as a society, we have become too test-oriented.” Still, he added, schools that choose to be test-optional must recognize the trade-off between the benefits — such as diversification of the student body — and the consequences of a potentially less-qualified class.

Tim Levin ’93, founder and CEO of New York-based tutoring organization Bespoke Education, said he does not see the importance of the SAT or ACT diminishing in the future. For better or for worse, he said, college rankings such as U.S. News and World Report have “a real stronghold on colleges,” and many schools are so concerned about their rankings that standardized tests have become “less of a vehicle to judge students than they are a way to judge colleges.”

“I think that any test is going to be inherently unfair to certain groups of people,” Levin said. “This is an issue that many are trying to address. I think admissions officers are very aware of this and would tell you they [do consider] a student’s background.”

Lola Ajao, a New York high school student about to begin the college application process, said she thinks that requiring the SAT or ACT on applications is “a good idea in theory” as a method of universal comparison. But she added that she thinks tests put students of lower socio-economic standing at a disadvantage.

Dianna Exe, a high school student from Ottawa, Canada, said she thinks the SAT requirement is unfair to international applicants because a majority of the SAT’s material is not taught in the Canadian curriculum until the 12th grade, so Canadian applicants may not be on equal footing with American applicants.

The majority of American universities currently require standardized tests for admission.

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